Councillor Joyce Behnsen is taking exception to a new bylaw that could see council members’ pay docked for disrespectful conduct. (File photo)

Councillor Joyce Behnsen is taking exception to a new bylaw that could see council members’ pay docked for disrespectful conduct. (File photo)

Poor conduct could mean pay cuts for North Cowichan councillors

Violation of repectful workplace code or oath of office could be costly

Council members in North Cowichan could see their municipal pay docked for disrespectful conduct in the workplace.

Council passed a motion at a special meeting on Feb. 19 that allows the municipality to deduct pay for any council member found to have violated North Cowichan’s respectful workplace policies and the oath of office, as determined by an independent investigator.

The motion was passed unanimously, with councillor Joyce Behnsen absent from the meeting.

Mayor Jon Lefebure said the motion was part of ongoing efforts by the municipality to establish “standards of conduct” for council members and municipal employees, as well as a new oath of office for council members.

“Municipal councils across the province are concerned about how they deal with inappropriate behaviour,” he said.

“Our staff are currently preparing standards of conduct for North Cowichan, and the details of this new bylaw could be tabled at the same time.”

SEE RELATED: North Cowichan council to set standards of conduct

Lefebure said the new bylaw is not connected to Behnsen, who was disciplined in November by council for bullying and harassing a municipal employee.

But Behnsen said she believes it is about her.

The municipality took action against her after it hired an investigator and carried out an investigation of the allegations, and concluded that Behnsen’s conduct amounted to bullying and harassment of the employee.

Behnsen was subsequently excluded from all the municipality’s committees, subcommittees and liaison appointments for 2018 as a result.

SEE RELATED: Joyce Behnsen disciplined for bullying and harassing municipal employee

Behnsen said she decided not to attend the special council meeting, calling it a “kangaroo court”.

She said she sent a statement to council instead outlining her concerns and saying she will challenge council’s decision.

“I will not sit meekly by and let council gag my efforts to get solutions for our residents,” Behnsen said in her statement.

“Even before I was elected, I was pushing municipal hall to get things done on behalf of citizens and I don’t intend to stop.”

Behnsen said she’s not a bully, but the mayor and council have decided that they are tired of her advocating for citizens and have found a way to “gag” her.

“It all seems legal but really, what right do my elected colleagues have to subvert the choice of the electors?” she asked.“They are stealing the vote away from those that voted for me by silencing me, and that is undemocratic.”

Lefebure said exact details of the new bylaw have yet to be determined, including how much councillors would be docked.

Each councillor in North Cowichan currently makes $21,865 a year in base salary and benefits, while the mayor makes $59,869.

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